For more than twenty years after 1793, the French army was supreme in continental Europe. Only at sea was British power dominant, though even with this crucial advantage the British population lived under fear of a French invasion for much of those two decades. How was it that despite multiple changes of government and the assassination of a Prime Minister, Britain survived and eventually won a generation-long war against a regime which at its peak in 1807 commanded many times the resources and manpower?
This book looks beyond the familiar exploits of the army and navy to the politicians and civil servants, and examines how they made it possible to continue the war at all. It shows the degree to which the capacities of the whole British population were involved: industrialists, farmers, shipbuilders, cannon founders, gunsmiths and gunpowder manufacturers all had continually to increase quality and output as the demands of the war remorselessly grew. The intelligence war was also central. Yet no participants were more important, he argues, than the bankers and international traders of the City of London, who played a critical role in financing the wars and without whom the armies of Britain’s allies could not have taken the field.
The Duke of Wellington famously said that the battle which finally defeated Napoleon was ‘the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life’: this book shows how true that was for the Napoleonic War as a whole.